Ethics In Tech & Lack Thereof

Sleeping Under The Cell Tower

By Vahid Razavi

Rendition as a Service: Enter CSC

While researching The Age of Nepotism I learned about the US extraordinary rendition program that the CIA was operating in the Balkans and around the world. Suspected terrorists and innocent men alike were being kidnapped off the streets of European cities and towns — indeed cities, towns, villages, and countryside worldwide. They were then flown to third countries or CIA “black sites” where they were interrogated, often tortured, while they were imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial. Neither The Geneva Conventions nor basic human decency applied. To keep its illegal rendition program secret, the US government hired Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), an old technology company with billions of dollars in support contracts for the military industrial complex and the surveillance state. You might be wondering what on Earth a tech company was doing getting involved in covert illegal kidnapping. Let’s just say that CSC is no ordinary tech company.

Founded in Los Angeles in 1959 by Fletcher Jones and Roy Nutt, CSC initially made its name creating programming tools — mainly assembler and compiler software. Jones and Nutt launched CSC with just $100 in operating capital; however, within four years it was America’s largest software company. It offered its software services to major players in the burgeoning tech industry,including IBM and Honeywell. CSC’s first major proprietary software was called Computax and was a big hit with accountants. By 1965 Jones was worth $20 million and appeared in a Time Magazine feature article on young millionaires.7 The following year, CSC won its first government contract: supporting a NASA computer laboratory in Alabama. By 1968 annual sales topped $53million and the firm became the first software company to go public, listing on the New York Stock Exchange. By then, CSC was operating in nine countries. At the dawn of the 1970s, Jones took on his most ambitious challenge yet: a nationwide computer network he called Infonet. Meanwhile,CSC further developed its relationship with the US government while expanding its overseas operations, including launching a computerized air cargo handling system for London’s Heathrow airport.

The 1970s were a tumultuous time for CSC. A series of cash crises, the death of Jones in a 1972 plane crash, and stiff competition in the rapidly growing software market all took their toll on the company. So did its first major failure to deliver to a customer — the aborted contract to develop a phone-based horse race betting system for New York City’s Offtrack Betting Corporation. CSC took months to get the project up and running, allowing competitors to enter the fray while ultimately operating only about half of Offtrack Betting’s customer betting terminals. However, government contracts saved the company, providing about half of its revenue by mid-decade and leading towarnings from industry analysts that CSC was overdependent on such contracts. The company expanded globally throughout the 1970s and into the ‘80s, becoming NASA’s fourth-biggest customer and acquiring competitors mainly in the healthcare and systems integration industries. In addition to government contracts, CSC grew by servicing large corporations including General Electric and Travelers Insurance. By 1986 CSC annual revenue approached $1 billion.